Aggressive Male Juvenile Offenders with Callous-Unemotional Traits Show Aberrant Attentional Orienting to Distress Cues – 2018

Antisocial youth with callous-unemotional (CU) traits exhibit a pattern of severe and persistent conduct problems and deficits in emotional processing that parallels adults with psychopathy. Aberrant emotional attention, particularly among individuals high on aggression, constitutes one such deficit; however, its robustness across race/ethnicity requires further investigation given findings that the psychopathy construct manifests differently across race (Sullivan and Kosson 2006), and emotional attention is susceptible to the influence of adverse environmental factors such as violence exposure that is more common among ethnic minority youth (Kimonis et al. in Development and Psychopathology, 20, 569–589, 2008b). Also, the development of a comprehensive measure of CU traits, the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (ICU), has identified specific CU dimensions (Uncaring, Callous, Unemotional) that are yet to be investigated in relation to emotional attention deficits. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to examine whether aggressive boys high on total CU traits and specific ICU dimensions show deficits in attentional orienting to negative stimuli on a dot-probe task that are consistent across race/ethnicity. Results from a predominately Latino sample of incarcerated male adolescents (N = 156) showed that aggression moderated the association between CU traits and facilitation to distress stimuli. That is, aggressive boys high on CU traits or the Uncaring dimension showed deficient attentional orienting; a finding that was consistent across racial/ethnic minority groups. Results are consistent with prior research suggesting that the combination of high CU traits and aggression defines a unique subgroup of antisocial individuals that more closely fits with the construct of psychopathy than the presence of CU traits alone.

Eva R. Kimonis, Nicole Graham, Elizabeth Cauffman
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, April 2018, Volume 46, Issue 3